Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Africa - You CAN Go There

I grew up mostly in rural Wisconsin with brief forays into Iowa and Indiana. When I went to college I selected a school in the Chicago area. It was quite an adjustment for a small town/country boy. Two things from my small town experience have stuck with me all these years. The first was meeting Cecil Buckby. Cecil was a neighbor whose farm was across the street from one of the homes where we lived outside Marion, WI. Cecil was about 80 years old when I met him in the mid-1970's and he had never traveled out of the county. That's not a typo. I didn't miss an 'r' in the word. Cecil had never been out of the county limits in his life. He lived in the farmhouse he'd been born in and was perfectly content to end his days right there.

The second experience happened a few years later after I'd moved to Chicago for school. I took a semester off and found a job at a factory in Richland Center, WI where my family had relocated. Every other weekend or so I would jump in the car and drive the three hours back to Chicago to hang out with friends and stay in touch with college life. One Friday after work a few of my factory buddies...all local boys...were kicking around what to do for the weekend. I suggested we all drive to Chicago. Right then. They were shocked at the suggestion. Why, Chicago was so far away, so foreign, how could anyone just jump in a car and drive to Chicago? Ultimately I convinced them that a three hour drive wasn't so daunting and three of them agreed. Thirty plus years later some of them may still be talking about 'that time we drove to Chicago!'

All these years later this small town country boy who went off to the big city for school has now visited 17 countries and nearly every state in the union. My son studied in Germany, my daughter in Austria and she now lives and works in Cairo, Egypt. Last fall when I stopped by Cairo on my way home from Kenya my daughter and I mused about how small the world really is and how our perspectives have changed as we've become international citizens.

Much like my shock at my Wisconsin friends who thought Chicago was an unthinkable trip and Cecil Buckby's 80 years inside a single county, I'm amazed at folks who consider a trip to another country an impossible dream. When I invite people to join me on a mission trip to Kenya in August some of them look at me like I've just grown a second head. Africa!! It's so very far away and such an effort to get there. Let me assure you, just as I did my friends all those years ago, that it's not as big a deal as you might think. Get a passport, come up with some money (your own or raise some support), get on a plane and in less than 24 hours you'll be in Kenya with me changing the lives of orphaned and blind children. Once you've done it you'll see it's not that daunting and certainly not impossible. A lady on our trip last year goes a couple times a year. You may not ever get to the point where you fly to Africa for a quick two day visit like I once did, but I guarantee that just one 10 day trip and you're perspective on the world and your place in it will be radically altered.

You CAN go to Africa. Go here and register today. The first step will only cost you $200. I'll see you in Nairobi on August 27th. Check my earlier blog posts for all the trip details and the scoop on where we'll be serving. Go ahead and commit today before you talk yourself out of it!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Don't Live a Useless Life

Our people must learn to spend their lives doing good,in order to provide for real needs; they should not live useless lives. - Titus 3:14

As many times as I've read the Bible I never really caught this verse in Titus. Not sure why as it resonates with my core passion of doing good in order to provide for real needs. I find it interesting that St. Paul in this letter to Titus defines a useless life (in some translations an unfruitful life) as the result of not doing good. Doing good is defined as those things that provide for real needs. So, let's deconstruct this verse to discover one Biblical definition of what we, as Christians, are to be doing with our lives.

Paul urges us to do good. Good is done in order to provide for real needs. If we want to figure out what real needs are we need look no further than Matthew chapter 25:35-36...

'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'

Continuing to unpack the Titus verse, then, providing for real needs means feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, visiting (caring for) the sick and imprisoned. We can safely assume that similar activities would fit here like bringing clean water to people who are dying from water borne disease, repairing the homes of elderly, needy and disadvantaged folks, going to poor neighborhoods and taking care of the people there. Is it too strong a statement to say that if you're not involved in doing these things your life is useless?

I'm going to say it's not a stretch to say that. Unfortunately we live in a culture that tells us your life is useful if you earn big money, drive a nice car, live in a fine home with a vacation home on the side, and collect savings, retirement accounts and investment portfolios. But look again at Paul's words to Titus...

"Our people must learn to spend their lives doing good..." (emphasis mine) Based on Paul's other writings and the placement of Titus in the canon of Scripture I can only assume that when he says 'our people' he's talking about those who follow Jesus Christ. Christians, according to Paul, must spend their lives doing good. If you're not engaged in providing for real needs in some way on a regular basis then your life is useless. I've never met anyone who consciously wants to live a useless life. So, how about you? Is your life useful? Would you like it to be? Go here to find all sorts of opportunities to live a useful life. There is something for everyone from one day simple service events to overseas mission. Some cost money and many do not. If you're looking to live a useful life it's not hard to do. There is need everywhere and God has ordained you to meet it in His name.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Consider This

It is my personal mission to get everyone in the United States out of the United States...even if for just one week. Now, I know that's a big, hairy, audacious goal that I may never accomplish. But that doesn't mean I'll stop trying.

I know there are good reasons folks can't leave the country...even for just one week. Perhaps you have a medical condition that prevents you from traveling. Maybe you're afraid of flying. It could be that you've reached an age where overseas travel just isn't an option for you (though I have dear friends in their late 70's who make a regular habit of going on overseas mission trips). One reason often cited for not being able to go on a mission trip is cost. This is the one that doesn't stand up. There are more than enough resources available to all of us in the U.S. that money is never a reason not to go on a mission trip.

Consider might be one of those people with a truly legitimate reason why you can't go overseas. Sitting right next you in church might be someone who would love to go overseas on a short term mission trip but they aren't financially able to afford it themselves. What if folks who weren't able to go on their own provided a little help for those able to go but financially strapped? I'm not suggesting one person pay the entire cost of another person (unless you're able to do that), no, I'm suggesting that if you have some bit of money to spare for missions that you consider inviting others to pool resources and send someone from your church on a mission trip.

I first heard about this while on a recent visit to New Orleans to prepare a trip for this summer. There was a missions team working in the Lower Ninth Ward and someone on the team told me that there are qualified trades people in their church who are out of work right now. Skilled individuals suffering during this recession. Their skills are greatly needed in New Orleans so members of the church paid the expense to send these skilled workers on a mission trip that changed their lives.

From August 27 to September 5 of this year I'm leading a trip to Kenya where we'll help orphaned and blind children. This is a medical/construction mission so we're looking for doctors, nurses and folks with construction skills. If you can join us, please do. You can register through this website. Take a look at some of my earlier posts here for more trip details. If you can't make the trip, consider someone you know who could and think about making a contribution for them to go and invite others to do the same. Together we can change the world whether you do it in person or give someone else the chance.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Joining Forces

Today I started my new job and a new adventure with Lutheran Church Charities. It was very difficult to leave my old job with Group Cares (formerly Group Workcamps Foundation) but it isn't so much a leaving as it is a joining together. Though I now work for LCC (we Lutherans must condense everything to an acronym) there are two exciting projects that we'll be doing together with Group Cares. One is a 1 By Youth single day of service in the Chicago area coming up May 7. I'm looking for folks to help me put this exciting day together as we anticipate over 1000 volunteers to flood a single neighborhood for a single day.

The other big joint venture is a medical/construction mission trip to Kenya with Lifetree Adventures set for August 27-September 5. In Kenya we'll be working with orphans and blind children as we improve their living conditions. In other blog posts there are details about the two agencies we'll work with along with other details. The trip costs $2295 not including airfare to Kenya. It does include a two day fly-in safari and the chance to change lives for the better. We need a team of at least 20 volunteers to commit to this trip by April 1. If you can't join us, consider sponsoring someone who can. Perhaps there's a doctor or nurse in your congregation who could help us if you'd invite them. The registration fee to secure your spot on the trip is only $200.

Kenya is a stable anchor in East Africa but there is tremendous poverty. The AIDS epidemic that continues to plague all of Africa has certainly left its mark on Kenya. Both Lutheran Church Charities and Group Cares are committed to bringing the love of Jesus to people in need through real, meaningful and relational service. I encourage you to put your faith into action and find out what a difference you can make.